Shut Up, Dave Grohl
Cool story, dad.
Jena Ardell for the Village Voice. More here.
I write a lot about the women who have inspired me to make art -- but there are dudes in this mix, too. Steve Albini's stance on music as an industry, Kurt Cobain's feminism, Henry Rollins' staunch ethos on life as a musician, Mike Watt's positive attitude and workhorse musicianship and even most of Thurston Moore's career (before the dissolution of his relationship with one of the patron saints of modern art as music, Kim Gordon, changed the way I felt about him because I realized he was a lame, regular old guy like everyone else,) were all dudes who have navigated the industry in ways I admired and aspired to be like.
Once upon a time, Dave Grohl was one of these dudes I admired, too. But over the last few years, I have seen him become like every other bro in the archaic pantheon of popular music -- a guitar-wanking, get-off-my-lawn, "there's no good music anymore," mildly sexist rock guy. And it is something I'd like to see a lot less of 2015.
Most recently, my beef has been with Grohl's American music history lesson slash Foo Fighters promotion machine on HBO, Sonic Highways. As Julianne Escobedo Shepard points out, "As Sonic Highways tells it, women's involvement in American music has been cursory, at best, with a the amount of women musicians allowed to speak in any given episode topping out at around three, regardless of how prominent these women might be." She also highlights the lack of women of color's presence in these stories and the even the lack of women in bands that his own band, Nirvana, had personal connections to.
Sure, this project is based on Grohl's personal experiences, but if you're going to tackle a whole city's entire music history in one fell swoop, ya might want to make sure you're actually covering it. Don't get me wrong; there are some great voices and stories involved in Sonic Highways. But I would expect more of an encompassing tale in a multi-part series of that supposed depth. The way modern music history has been sold to active listeners and players like me doesn't leave a lot of room for the telling of women's participation in the first place and Grohl had a great opportunity to shift the perspective. But he didn't.
Speaking of sausage fests, Grohl's 2013 documentary, Sound City, also seemed to be just a great regaling of the men's-only world of recording. Yes I know, Stevie Nicks was there. But she's about it when it comes to female-identified musicians being a part of the story of Sound City, and I somehow find that hard to believe. When other women involved in the actual management of the studio are mentioned -- Paula Salvatore, mostly -- they are remembered more for their pretty faces and attentiveness to the needs of dudes than for their actual work. (Then, the documentary disintegrates into the most boring jam session ever, something which could have been cut from the film altogether.)
2013 also brought us Grohl's glassy-eyed tale of the music biz via his SXSW keynote speech. For a long and blissful waxing on his own conversion to rock n' roll, it's pretty neat. But then his sweet talk about the hard work and hustle of Nirvana falls apart into his own mythic tale of taking the mainstream back from the "polished pop music" that was apparently dominating (though I'm pretty sure dudes making music with guitars never left the mainstream.) He bags on Wilson Philips -- excuse me, "Wilson fucking Philips" for being chart-toppers. But the story of successful alt-rock bros tearing down pop music's credibility is a whole other blog in itself.
This year, Grohl took the opportunity to bash everyone's favorite "pop music sucks for a variety of reasons" scapegoat, Taylor Swift. When the Swift corporation decided to pull her music from Spotify, Grohl responded: "Me personally? I don't fucking care. That's just me, because I'm playing two nights at Wembley next summer," Cool story, rich alt-dad. Congrats on selling out stadiums with your palatable pop-rock rooted in a pretty typical tale of a rock band that made it in the music industry.
I get why Dave Grohl is a go-to guy when it comes to commentary on the current state of popular music -- he was in one of the biggest bands of the last twenty years and is currently in one of the most popular mainstream rock bands. Yup, he has every right (and many available platforms) to champion what he likes, talk about music history the way he sees it and have opinions on Taylor Swift. But the more he talks, the more he sounds out-of-touch with the future -- or even the present -- of popular music. And that's a perspective I could use a lot less of in 2015.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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